Medicine Hat Police Response to Opioid/Drug Crisis

Medicine Hat, Alberta – Recently the Chief received a letter through the Mayor’s office regarding a citizens concerns about the growing opioid/drug crisis and its impact on the feelings of safety and security for the citizens of Medicine Hat. As it was felt the same concerns are likely shared by others in the community, we felt it appropriate to share the Chief’s reply.

“Dear Mr, X, You are correct that there has been an increase in the prevalence of both Methamphetamine and opioids within the city. As reported in our 2015 and 2016 MHPS annual reports, this concerning trend has been identified as an issue and in response the police service has developed several operational strategies and community-based initiatives. Substance abuse issues are incredibly complex and therefore our response as a Police Service is focused on four separate and distinct areas, including; intelligence gathering, enforcement action, education and awareness, and community collaboration to address the root cause of the addiction and drug usage.

The MHPS has three operational units tasked with the enforcement of the Criminal Code and specifically charges related to the Controlled Drugs and Substance Act (CDSA). The first enforcement group is the Patrol Section. The Patrol Section are first responders that attend the vast majority of calls for service, and are the front-line responders for the Police Service. They will respond to all manner of complaints and provide an immediate response to emergency calls. Due to the increased prevalence deadly opioids in the community, in 2016 MHPS Patrol and Traffic officers started carrying naloxone, the antidote for opioid overdoses. Since September of 2017, officer have deployed the spray 41 times on 33 subjects. Thirty-two of the subjects were successfully revived by the naloxone at scene and the remaining subject was transported to the hospital where he was revived.

When not responding to calls, the Patrol Section members are tasked with several proactive community policing initiatives. One such activity involves monitoring suspected drug houses within the city. Using analytics, the MHPS has compiled a list of active drug houses, based on calls for service within an area, as well as complaints received from the public. Each of the four Patrol Teams are assigned specific drug houses and tasked with targeting the area, in an effort to deter and prevent criminal activity. This typically involves several activities, such as; vehicle stops, traffic enforcement, conditions/warrant checks as well as enforcement of all criminal and drug related laws. Often times these houses are rental properties, and the Service will work with homeowners to displace criminal activity. If a drug house persists, the Alberta Sherriff’s Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods (SCAN) team, is deployed to further target a residence, with an aim to stop all criminal activity. Thus far, SCAN has been successful in shutting down three known drug houses in Medicine Hat by way of community safety orders on the residences.

The Priority Street Crimes Unit (PSCU) is another unit tasked with targeting low-level drug activity, property offences, as well as offender accountability. Offender accountability is the process by which, an offender who is released from the courts on a criminal charge, is held accountable to court ordered conditions. This often entails curfew checks, searches or compliance with other conditions. The PSCU has been extremely effective targeting known offenders, based on analytical data.

The MHPS Community Intelligence Team (CIT) is responsible for the gathering and distribution of crime data intelligence so that it may be used to direct operational resources in the most efficient and effective manner. The CIT obtains intelligence from numerous sources, including calls for service, information from confidential sources, community partners, and provincial/national intelligence and enforcement agencies. Intelligence lead policing is critical to directing our activities to areas of concern to deter criminal activity and target offenders based on community harm.

The Organized Crime Section (OCS) is another important piece of the strategy, involved with both enforcement and intelligence gathering activities. The OCS is a combined forces special enforcement unit, comprised of MHPS, RCMP and Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams (ALERT) team members working together to investigate, disrupt and dismantle organized and serious crime, such as drug trafficking and gang activity. The team base their activities on analytics, which includes several factors: such as risk of community harm, duration of investigations, volume of controlled substances, etc. Currently the OCS is focus on street level traffickers within the city and have recently made numerous arrests.

Year to date the OCS has seized 1,394 grams of methamphetamine and 39 grams of heroin. These totals indicate a continuation of the trends observed in 2016 when an unprecedented amount of heroin (52.5 grams) and methamphetamine (1,474 grams) were seized. These volumes represented a 400% increase in methamphetamine, and an almost 700% increase in the volume of heroin seized as compared to 2015.

In addition to enforcement, education and awareness campaign are vital to ensuring a proactive response from the community, including our youth, to make certain the current trend is limited in its duration. The MHPS Community Safety Unit (CSU) is the unit most commonly tasked with these types of initiatives. CSU oversee the delivery of the Encouraging Positive Informed Choices (EPIC) program to all student in Grades 4, 6, and 8. In response to recent drug trends, the program has been augmented with even more information about street drugs with an aim to prevent future generations from making uninformed choices regarding drugs. In the fall of 2016, the MHPS applied for and received a grant from the Province to augment our drug awareness programs, and used the additional funding to provide community information session on the dangers of drugs. Speakers from the Adolescent Recovery Centre (AARC) in Calgary were brought to Medicine Hat to speak to high school students, parents and interested community members about their personal experiences with addiction, treatment and recovery.

In your letter to the Mayor, you mention the connection between increased drug activity and property crimes. Often times, vehicles are stolen and used by criminals, specifically drug traffickers, to conduct criminal activities, which in turn, create a high risk to the public. Simple prevention activities such as removing keys, securing vehicles and ensuring property stored out of sight can have a significant impact on reducing these crimes of opportunity. The CSU has recently been tasked with increasing the awareness in our community about how the public can assist in addressing the current trends.

As I stated above, substance abuse issues are incredibly complex and addressing the root cause requires a joint community response. The MHPS cannot fix this problem alone. Criminal behavior is often just one side effect of individuals suffering from drug addiction and there are many factors contributing to the disease in the first place. From a policing perspective, we often see drug abuse connected to individuals from difficult family environments, previous victims of violence or sexual violence, economic factors, mental health conditions, and addictions resulting from prescribed medications, or traumatic events. This is not by any means an exhaustive list but just an example of how difficult it is to pin point the cause and effect. Often addicts are powerless over their addiction and they require assistance to recover.

The MHPS is currently working with our partners in Alberta Health Services (AHS), to focus on a combined response to opioid use and mental health issues. We are also working with the Sexual Assault Response Committee (SARC), to provide improved services to victims of sexual violence ensuring that wrap around supports and in place to assist them in their recovery. Victims of sexual violence often turn to substance abuse, criminality or commit sexual offences in response to their trauma. Our Family Crime Unit works directly with community and social services, to meet the needs of children/ persons at risk in less than desirable family situations. We have collaborated with Probation Services to share information on known offenders and many other community agencies, who assist us in our current harm reduction and crime prevention strategies. To be most effective our response to our community drug problems must be holistic, integrated and partnership based.

In closing, I just want to assure you that I have heard you and share many of your concerns regarding the impact drugs on our community. Increased opioids and methamphetamine use is a relatively new trend, but we are confident in our approach, and with the support of our community and partner agencies we will be able to address this concerning trend and keep Medicine Hat one of the safest and most desirable places to live in the country.

Andy McGrogan
Chief of Police

Medicine Hat Police Service

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